While it is common to see people vaping or smoking in Thailand, the legality of the practice is much murkier territory. It is odd to see travelers and tourists being warned against vaping in the country when more illicit, illegal activities such as prostitution and hard drug use are just as commonplace.
Is vaping legal in Thailand? The answer is no, e-cigarettes and their refills have been illegal both for import, possession, and export in Thailand since November of 2014. Those caught with vaping paraphernalia can be subject to fines, deportation, and up to ten years in prison. However, real prison time for vaping charges is not likely.
Is vaping worth the risk when you’re traveling abroad in Thailand? It depends on whether you’re willing to risk the consequences of getting caught. Keep reading to find out more about the predicament of people who want to vape in Thailand and if you can safely get away with it.
Vaping is Illegal in Thailand
Technically, vaping has been illegal for seven years in Thailand. While the practice itself isn’t prohibited, having a vape is. It’s common to see both travelers and residents of Thailand alike using vapes, especially in more outlying areas that are less heavily guarded by police. Still, if you use a vape in Thailand, you are running a serious legal risk.
The biggest issue with vaping illegally in Thailand is that Thai police will often use confiscated e-cigarettes as an excuse to extort tourists for on the spot bribes. Since the e-cigarettes are illegal and giving a few hundred dollars to a cop is often preferable for a tourist than spending ten years in a Thai prison, this system is a self-perpetuating cycle.
A practical reason that vaping is illegal in Thailand is that many kinds of drugs other than nicotine can be concealed in e-cigarette rigs. While e-cigarettes do not get to a high enough temperature to vaporize methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin, e-cigarettes can be used to smoke other illegal drugs such as:
- Spice (synthetic cannabis)
All of the above substances are EXTREMELY illegal in Thailand. Until January of 2017, the possession and sale of illegal drugs carried the death penalty, even for foreigners. To this day, many would-be tourists in Thailand are sitting in prison for drug-related charges, and there are special visiting hours in Thai prisons where tourists are allowed to visit with the prisoners and learn their cautionary tales.
Even if you plan on sneaking a vape into Thailand to inhale nicotine, you’re going to want to avoid trying to sneak in anything else if you value your freedom.
What Happens If You Get Caught Vaping in Thailand?
So you’ve decided to take your vaping rig into Thailand anyway—what’s the worst that could happen?
Luckily, you’re not at risk of being killed over an e-cigarette anymore since Thailand has slightly relaxed its drug-related laws, but there are still several serious consequences attached to getting caught with a vape in Thailand. Here are some of the possible things that might happen:
- You may get a warning. This is unlikely, but friendly cops abide everywhere. The rules against vaping are posted by the Foreign Office with regards to tourists, and vaping has been illegal for seven years in Thailand. Ignorance of the law probably isn’t going to fly. If you get the nicest of nice guy police officer in Thailand when you get caught vaping, you might get lectured.
- Your vaping gear is likely to be confiscated. If you get caught vaping in public, even the most relaxed of Thai police officers are likely to take your vaping equipment away from you (if only to prevent you from using it the minute they turn their back). You’re also more likely to get your vape confiscated during a search at a travel checkpoint, even if you’re not actively using it.
- You will probably get a fine. Most tourists who get caught vaping in Thailand are subjected to an “on the spot” fine, with the amount of the fine varying wildly from officer to officer. Many tourists criticize this practice as extortion—and perhaps rightly so. But in any case, if you get caught vaping in Thailand, prepare to cough up several hundred dollars to a cop.
- You may get arrested and deported. This is one of the more severe consequences that could happen if you get caught with an e-cigarette in Thailand and is more likely to occur in conjunction with some other more grievous offense, such as getting extremely drunk in a Thai bar and causing mischief in public.
- You may earn some jail time. If Thailand decides to deport you for illegally importing a vape, you’re probably going to spend a few days in a Thai holding cell while all of the paperwork and red tape get cleared up.
- You may go to prison. There are no public cases of a person going to jail for ten years for an e-cigarette—tourist or otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that the law isn’t on the books if someone wants to use it against you. However, this is an unlikely outcome since the Thai government is currently looking at relaxing e-cigarette bans.
Of course, these are all consequences provided you get caught with your e-cigarette in the country, and the likelihood of that depends on many different variables such as what kind of roadblocks you end up going through, how sketchy your other behavior in-country is, and so on.
Should You Risk Vaping in Thailand?
If you’re just using a vape to inhale nicotine and e-cigarette liquids in Thailand, whether or not it’s worth the risk depends on if you have an extra five hundred dollars or so in spending money for your trip to throw in a Thai policeman’s direction should you get caught with it in a public place.
The safest way to take a vape to Thailand and enjoy using it without being hassled by the police is to confine the use of your vape to private quarters, such as your hotel room. Vaping in crowded public places is a surefire way to get caught by a passing patrol cop, especially in areas that are known to be frequented by tourists.
If you’re just vaping as a way to get nicotine, it is much safer for your wallet just to buy cigarettes while you’re in the country and return to using your vape when you come home from your trip. Few people are willing to risk the expense of a vape-related fine on their vacation, especially when it could potentially snowball into a jail visit.
There are a few pitfalls to swapping over to traditional cigarettes in Thailand if you usually use a vape. The first is that cigarettes are illegal to sell to anyone under the age of 20 (not that you’re likely to run into problems finding a black market for just about anything). The second is that there are many health concerns associated with cigarettes that are resolved by vaping.
If You Get an “On the Spot” Fine for Vaping in Thailand, You’re Getting Off Light
Many tourists complain about being extorted with fines by police when confronted about vaping in public in Thailand, but the truth is that if you get off with a warning, a fine, and the confiscation of your vaping materials, you’re getting off light. A stay in a Thai prison is no picnic, and because of the laws, the Thai police are well within their rights to throw the book at you if you fuss about the fine.
If you’re prepared to pay a fine and potentially lose your vape in the process, there are plenty of areas where you can get away with using a vape without drawing a policeman’s attention in Thailand.
To a large extent, Thailand is self-aware of its reputation as a mecca of debauchery and will turn a blind eye to many offenses as long as tourists behave themselves and keep their behavior discreet. As with many of the vices available for purchase in Thailand, the ban of e-cigarettes is challenging to enforce.
Vaping in Thailand Usually Isn’t Worth the Risk
Even though Thailand’s laws regarding vaping and other drugs have slightly relaxed in the past six years, the truth is that up until only a few years ago, Thailand competed with a few other countries for some of the most stringent drug legislation in the world. This led to many tourists being persecuted for drug-related charges in attempts to make examples out of them and deter others from breaking the same laws.
If you’re a fiend for nicotine, it’s much safer to switch over to cigarettes for the short term while you’re in Thailand than risk an expensive fine that could end your vacation prematurely or jail time and deportation that could end your vacation spectacularly. If you are not able to smoke traditional cigarettes for any reason, it would be wise to kick your nicotine habit before your trip.